If I know geeks, and I think I do, we have a tendency to lose the forest for the trees in an argument whenever someone uses any label. Ever. We love to point out exceptions, get caught up in semantics. So, before I could even start writing a post about “nice guy” superheroes, I found myself debating myself to the point I was saying things like “Who do you think you are, deciding who’s a nice guy and who isn’t!?”
So, let’s keep it simple. For one, I am fully aware I am defending characters most everyone loves anyway, so there’s really no debate per se. The genesis of this post, however, did come from the age-old Superman Vs. Batman debate over at Word of the Nerd during a Film Fans podcast – or, rather, from this one thing Bex said that made me mad. “Superman is boring,” she said. SUPERMAN IS BORING. Then, she said it again somewhere on Facebook.
Bex and I have been friends for over 25 years. We have dated the same guys (at different times), alternated being thinner than the other (something Bex is soundly winning in our 30s and don’t think I haven’t noticed) and stubbornly refused to watch each others’ favorite shows – none of which threatened our bond the way “Superman is boring,” did.
Liberal use of hyperbole aside, this got me thinking about why on Earth I was so upset. In the standard “hero-super-hero vs. anti–super-hero” match-ups of Iron Man vs. Captain America and Superman Vs. Batman, surely as little as 5 years ago I would have gone with Iron Man in the latter and called a tie in the former. I like Batman. I like dark and brooding and broken. I like the charm and swagger and underlying courage of Tony Stark, too. While the tropes involved with anti-heroes are just as trope-y as the ones associated with goody-two-shoes heroes, the added layer of secrecy and damage associated with Batsy and Stark add to their magnetism on screen and on the page. In some ways, I can understand being bored by the guy who does the right thing on instinct rather than after a battle with demons. I mean, what’s so interesting about being a plain ol’ good guy?
Thing is, to me, everything is interesting about him. Christopher Reeve surely gets part of the credit. My first crush at age 4, his portrayal of the bumbling-and-corny Clark Kent and the charming-and-goody-goody Superman formed my concept of “hero” at young age. Deep down in my hippocampus, the memories of the music, the suit, the smile and the patient, open heart of the hero wired my brain; to this day I find nothing more heart-stopping than a man with black hair, blue eyes, and ethics.
But it’s more than the all-American, chiseled good-looks that keep me interested in heroes like Captain America and Superman. Watching someone accept a role that carries profound responsibility as easily as if they were slipping into a familiar pair of shoes in spite of the fact that they know they will sometimes be reviled for it, sometimes broken hearted because of it, is interesting. Perhaps in part this is because we have seen so many anti-heros rise to prominence in the days since Clint Eastwood brought a dirtier edge to another genre known for larger than life protagonists, the Western. After arguably two decades of Batman dominance (the first two Burton films count), it is different – powerful – to see a guy who smiles as much as he scowls; one who not only steps-up and saves lives, but also treats people kindly – women included. I’m intrigued by men who are good – just through and through, decent. (I would love to see more women super-heroes that fit the bill as well, by the way – feel free to suggest some in comments. Buffy is the only one who comes to mind for me.)
The best fictional, yet non-superhero character I can think of who falls into the compelling-good-guy mold is Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead. Shane is more bat-shit crazy, Daryl more hardcore, but no one commands my attention like Rick, the sheriff’s deputy who works steadily to keep humanity and reason alive in a world turned upside down. Rick makes the hard decisions, does the things no one else wants to do (think: Barnaggedon). He does not kill lightly or easily, but you better believe he will bust a cap in the ass of any ne’er-do-well in a rundown bar who intends to do harm, and he will do it with a clean conscience. He will not, however, leave an equally suspect kid to be eaten by zombies while impaled on a fence. You see the difference – or, I hope you do.
I empathize with Shane because he was this close to being cast as the hero of that group, but when Rick shows up alive and well, everyone knows by some unspoken instinct that the real hero just arrived. I care about Daryl and if we were in battle, I’d want him on my side, but it is Rick whom I tune-in to see. He’s the most interesting – the one who represents something quiet and good about civilization.
In the end, I think I have simply changed in some way. Long time lover of the anti-hero, I have turned into a nice girl looking for a nice guy in the world of make-believe. As I near the end of my 30s, I prefer calm decency to angst and drama. Or, who knows, maybe I just really, really like Chris Evan’s shoulders.
Stuff we geek out about…
- A Little Something for the Fellas (2)
- A Little Something for the Ladies (9)
- Avengers Boot Camp (9)
- Before the Movie – Trailers (13)
- Editorials and Reviews (136)
- Interviews (19)
- Miscellaneous Geekery (48)
- Nostalgia (17)
- Sandman Re-Read (11)
- Three Favorite Things (4)
What we JUST said…
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- All the Posts I Meant to Write this Month, Abridged
- Hemlock Grove-A New Guilty Pleasure
- Deborah Harkness and A Discovery of Witches
- Syfy’s Defiance- Hope They Didn’t Blow the Budget on a Song
- Cover Reveal for the New Liz Long Novel Witch Hearts
- From Gen-X, To Chris Hardwick With Love